Jul 20, 2019 | Updated: 08:54 AM EDT

Ants Do Not Eat Leaves: They Use Them To Grow Fungus Garden For Food And Space

Mar 09, 2017 05:23 PM EST

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The ants use their special mandibles to saw off pieces of plants.
(Photo : Deep Look/ You Tube) Ants don’t eat leaves. They use them to grow white tufts of nutritious fungus to feed their offspring. Their success as farmers has made leafcutter ants into fungus tycoons, complete with their own underground cities and huge half-inch soldiers to patrol them.

With soldiers, worker and even a specialized garbage crew, leaf-cutter ants maintain a complex society. The ants use their special mandibles to saw off pieces of plants. There are serrated like a steak knife to make cutting more efficient.

Most people think the leaf-cutter ants bit off the leaves to eat them, but they don't. They use them to grow a fungus garden that becomes both their food and living space. With help of their antennae, ants can generate different signals like "smell" signal, "Danger" signal or "Food is this way" each have their own scents. Leaf-cutting ants can learn which plants are not suitable for the fungus gardens that supply their food before they even leave the colony, according to a study published in Phys.

In a colony, different types of ants present there, but most of them are workers. The smallest ants called minims and the largest ants called Majors. The behavior of the minims ant is to watch the fungus food over the eggs the queen ant has laid. And majors, go out to collect bits of plants and defend the colony from intruders. If a plant proves unsuitable for the fungus garden, however, ants stop collecting it.

Researchers tried to find how the ants learned to identify unsuitable plants. In order to do that, they established two colonies of 1,000 worker ants in the lab. One colony filled with fed fungicide-treated privet leaves and untreated leaves to the second. Then they exposed the native ants in the second colony to waste from the first one as stated by Eureka Alert.

The researchers found that waste from fungicide-treated privet leaves made naïve ants avoid foraging on privets. This result shows that cues within the colony's waste dump are enough for ants to learn which plants are not suited to their fungus gardens. Additionally, 35 percent of the ants that had foraged the previous day visited the waste dump. It is more than previously thought and has implications for social learning in leaf-cutting ants.

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